September Journal in a Pandemic Year, Trinity 15

Our beloved cat, Laddie, died early Friday evening, when my husband and I made the difficult decision to have him put to sleep after he suffered a major seizure. He was over sixteen years old, from a shelter run by Tony La Russa in Walnut Creek (Animal Rescue Foundation), born in March 2004. They had named him Stojakovic after the Serbian basketball player. We changed his name to Laddie. We found him there as a kitten, a tough and tiny red tabby.

He had a good life, we keep telling ourselves. We were not allowed to be with him when he died, due to the pandemic, and the local animal hospital’s pandemic rules. We would have to wait in the car outside. And so we did. The vet was most helpful, all things considered, and spoke with us by phone as she examined Laddie, and then gave him a large dose of anesthetic.

And so we grieve. Given the lockdown-sheltering for over six months, we spent a great deal of time with Laddie, and he with us. It was a unique time in history – a time when “bubbles” become small countries of experience, for good or ill. Our bubble has been for the most part good, and Laddie has been a major contributor to that goodness.

And so we miss him all the more, and I try and tell myself, after all, he was just a cat. Just a cat? you cat-lovers exclaim in shock and amazement. Yes, I know. Me too. No such thing as just a cat.

We tuned in to our virtual church services this morning, and while St. Joseph’s Chapel had difficulty all the way through with their internet connection, I was able to catch a few words of the sermon preached by Fr. Napier. As I watched him speak from the center of the chancel, the altar and medieval crucifix rising behind him, I listened in amazement. He was detailing how the family dog had passed on recently, and how he was meditating on the nature of animals and souls and will we see them again? And then the connection went out again.

My angels were all around, weaving us together in a kind of sweet sympathy, a mourners’ melancholy, hopeful of Heaven. I smiled. Only God could bring such crooked lines as ours together as he did this morning, and I felt I was climbing a ladder into His Sacred Heart along with Father Napier and his family (his children, now grown, were in my Sunday School once).

Our dear bishop of blessed memory often said, “To love is to suffer.” So I am happy to suffer on account of love. I am offering our losses (the empty space in our rooms, in our hearts) to his Sacred Heart. And I am offering thanksgivings for being able to love, to love a tabby who followed the sun around the house and joined us in our daily routines which had become his daily routines. We and he had merged our lives together during this sheltering time.

And if it is this difficult with a pet, what must it be for those who have lost parents, spouses, children, during this time, when hospital visits are forbidden and churches are fined for their gatherings to honor and mourn?

I long for my church community to gather together once again, when all of these losses and sufferings are shared with the physical presence of faithful friends. The closure of our churches in California has gone on far too long, over six months and counting. Local businesses are shuttering for good, simply because they cannot afford to give up their savings to stay open. California is burning, in many ways, not just with the forest fires which continue to rage. I pray this is not the future of our country as well.

The air quality has improved a bit, and we had a few days of sun, seeing the colors of the earth joyfully return in the hills around us. Greens are green, blues are blue, my flowers in their pots outside the kitchen are happy in their yellows and pinks, even the seeds I planted from a Sunday School class years ago. But the air still smells of smoke.

Laddie is featured in Angel Mountain, my recently released novel. He too travels to Heaven and arrives safely on the other side of the Woods of the Cross. I do believe we will see our animals there – for when Heaven and Earth become one in the New Earth and Heaven, when Christ returns and reigns, the lion will lie down with the lamb so there must be cats and dogs too! All the creatures will be peaceful among us, as it must have been in the Garden of Eden so long ago.

In the meantime, and this is in many ways a mean time, we shall miss Laddie and with every pang of grief I will say a prayer of thanksgiving for his life, for our miraculous time together.

Deo gratias.

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